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Report “Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk”

Released April 24th, 2012

Study Question & Design:

  • Primary Question: what would happen to global food supplies if Pakistan and India engaged in a nuclear war.
  • Study based on a limited regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan. The global impacts are based on the use of 100 Hiroshima sized nuclear devices. Both nations possess some nuclear weapons that exceed the yields used in the study so the results may represent a conservative estimate of the actual impact.

Key Points:

  • The report, coming from the scientific community, warms that a limited nuclear war could put a billion people at risk of starvation. Conflict and epidemic disease generated by such a famine would put additional hundreds of millions at risk.
  • After the bombing, transporting of soot into the troposphere will cause declines in precipitation, solar radiation, and the length of the growing season. Corn and soybean production in the US would suffer a severe decline averaging more than 20% during the first 5 years.
  • The decline in crop production may impact the availability of fertilizer, pesticide and gasoline.
  • Chinese middle season rice production would decline up to 21% during the first 4 years after the war.
  • A one year 20% decline in crop yield would cause crop prices to rise 19.7%.  Globally prices would be distributed unevenly. Thus, East Asia would be 21.4% and South Asia would suffer an acute rise of 31.6%.
  • If the decline in crop production would reach 40% worldwide, global price would rise to an average of 98.7%. Whole price of crop in India alone would rise to 159.6%.
  • One year of decline of 20% average in worldwide crop production would cause 10% decline in calorie intake.
  • With a baseline consumption of 1,750 calorie per day, even 10% decline in calorie would lead to an additional deficit of 175 calories per day.
  • While many of the malnourished might survive the first year, it is realistic to fear that they would not survive if these conditions persisted for a decade.


The report’s findings support the following recommendations:

  • There is an urgent need to examine the effect of the weather conditions on other crops such as wheat and in other important food producing countries.
  • There is a need to explore in more detail what effects that the crop paucity will have on global population diet especially the daily calorie intake.
  • There is clearly a need to push further the study because preliminary data collected raises a giant red flag about the threat posed by the nuclear arms race in South Asia.
  • There is an urgent need to reduce a reliance on nuclear weapons by all nuclear weapons states.
  • There is an urgent need to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention that will ban these weapons completely.

About the Report’s Author:

Ira Helfand has worked for many years as an emergency room physician and now practices internal medicine at an urgent care center in Springfield, MA. He is a Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility and is currently the North American Vice President of the global federation, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

For the full report:

Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk
Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Suppliers, and Human Nutrition

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